NEW YORK (Reuters) - Enes Kanter, the NBA star whose home country, Turkey, revoked his passport over the weekend, lashed out at President Tayyip Erdogan at a news conference on Monday, calling him “the Hitler of our century” and describing himself as the victim of political retaliation.
Kanter, an outspoken Erdogan critic who plays for the National Basketball Association’s Oklahoma City Thunder, returned to the United States on Sunday after being detained in Romania when authorities learned his passport had been revoked.
The 6-foot-11-inch center, whose team was eliminated from the NBA playoffs, was traveling on a charity and promotional tour.
“The reason behind it was, whoever is going to try to go against the president, he’s going to try to shut him down,” Kanter said at the press conference in New York.
The Turkish embassy in Washington D.C. did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Kanter, who attended the University of Kentucky, said he has received daily death threats, mostly over social media, including two on Monday.
He contends that Turkey revoked his travel document in retaliation for his long-time support of Fethullah Gulen, a dissident cleric who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999. Erdogan is seeking Gulen’s extradition for his alleged role in a failed coup last July.
Kanter said last year he had severed ties with his family and pledged allegiance to Gulen after Turkish media published a letter signed by Kanter’s father, disowning his son.
In an April referendum, Turks narrowly backed constitutional changes creating an executive presidency that gave sweeping new powers to Erdogan, including control over the Islamist AKP Party.
The move, viewed by domestic and international critics as an authoritative power grab by Erdogan, comes amid mounting foreign policy challenges and tensions with NATO allies.
During the coup attempt, rogue soldiers in warplanes and tanks tried to seize power in Turkey in a plot that killed more than 240 people. Gulen has denied involvement.
At the news briefing, Kanter accused the Turkish president of quelling opposition at any price, including murder and rape.
“Erdogan, he’s a terrible man. He’s the Hitler of our century,” Kanter said. “I hope the world is going to do something about it.”
Kanter, who returned to the United States via London after his release by Romanian authorities, said on Monday his worst fear was to be sent against his will to Turkey.
“It was, of course, scary. If they sent me back to Turkey, probably you guys wouldn’t hear a word from me the second day,” Kanter said.
Kanter, who holds a U.S. green card allowing him to live and work in the United States on a permanent basis, said he hoped to become an American citizen because he is currently “country-less.”
Kanter said he had received a great deal of support online from fans and personal messages from teammates wishing him well following the incident in Romania, including a text message from teammate, Russell Westbrook.
“I‘m not even from America, and I see all these people and I get all this support. I feel like this is my home now,” Kanter said.
Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York and Ian Simpson in Washington, D.C.; Editing by Frank McGurty and Bernadette Baum